At last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Pathe revealed their new 4K restoration of Marcel Carné’s Children Of Paradise.
In the coming weeks you’ll have the opportunity to see the newly restored film, digitally projected around the country. So far we have dates at the Film Forum in New York (March 9th through the 27th), the Film Society of Lincoln Center (March 7th as a part of their Rendez-Vous With French Cinema series) and the Castro Theater in San Francisco (March 10th).
Janus Films doesn’t seem to have launched their page for the tour at this point, but I’m sure we’ll have dates soon for the rest of the country.
Poetic realism reaches sublime heights with Children of Paradise (Les enfants du paradis), the ineffably witty tale of a woman loved by four different men. Deftly entwining theater, literature, music, and design, director Marcel Carné and screenwriter Jacques Prévert resurrect the tumultuous world of nineteenth-century Paris, teeming with hucksters and aristocrats, thieves and courtesans, pimps and seers.
It seems like only a matter of time before Criterion releases a Blu-ray with this new 4K restoration. Perhaps a November release, to time with the anniversary of the US theatrical debut in 1946? We’ll see.
- Debra Kaufman at Creative Cow, on the restoration (with before / after pictures)
- Children Of Paradise on Criterion.com
- Brian Stonehill’s Essay
- Peter Cowie’s Essay
- Children Of Paradise on Mubi
- Order the DVD on Amazon
- David’s review over on Criterion Reflections
Janus has provided this following interview, which was also available in the press materials at last year’s Cannes film festival.
ABOUT THE RESTORATION
This is the first time that Marcel Carné’s masterpiece has been given such a complete restoration from the original negative. The work lasted many months and included the use of state of the art technology, especially the use of 4K scanning, the first time this has been done in Europe. Christian Lurin, manufacturing manager at Ã‰clair Laboratories, and Léon Rousseau, specialist of sound restoration at LE Diapason, were project managers of the undertaking, one for the images, and the other for the sound.
Where was the original negative of CHILDREN OF PARADISE, which served as the starting point for this restoration?
CHRISTIAN LURIN ‘“ First of all, we must remember that CHILDREN OF PARADISE was made during the War on nitrate film stock, like all films of the time. And we all know that nitrate is a fragile compound that decomposes over the years. In France during the early 1980s, on an initiative taken by Jack Lang, all nitrate negatives were stored under optimal conditions at the Bois-d’Arcy archive. The original negative was stored there with the others.
Does nitrate render the restoration work special?
LURIN ‘“ Nitrate in itself does not have any specific worries. The big problem we encountered was that the original negative had not always been handled with the greatest of care. It was very damaged in certain places, particularly by the presence of mold, which causes blurred images that are very difficult to treat. Even by making frame-by-frame manual corrections, it is still complicated. And every single reel of film had traces of mold.
Before starting the restoration work, this negative had to be digitized?
LURIN ‘“ To start with, the negative had to be sent to a specialized laboratory in Bologna to be scanned in very high definition. Here at Ã‰clair, we had no physical contact with the negative, only with digitized files. However, we did have to ‘complete’ this digitized version of the original negative with the help of what we call a ‘master positive,’ a print struck from the original negative. In total we used three such ‘master positives’ from which we recuperated certain frames, either because they were missing from the original negative, they had already been replaced by copies of inferior quality, or because they were too damaged to be restored. So for us the restoration started with a reconstruction game in order to have the best possible elements at our disposal. In the end, I would say that the original negative ‘“ that is to say the film that really went through the camera ‘“ represents about 90% of the frames we had to restore.
Did you proceed in the same way for the sound?
LÃ‰ON ROUSSEAU ‘“ The major characteristic of the sound of CHILDREN OF PARADISE is variable density, a process used in France until the early 1950s before being replaced by fixed density. Variable density is a much inferior process with a poorer signal to noise ratio. Indeed, background noise is almost always the main problem encountered in restoration, and CHILDREN OF PARADISE did not escape that rule. I received two digitized elements from Bologna. The first was made from the original negative and the second was from a ‘master positive.’ Therefore, I had the soundtrack of the whole film in two different formats. Theoretically, the positive print should have been used as my basic model, but the audible background noise was unstable. It fluctuated all the time, which was extremely uncomfortable to listen to. So I used the master positive, which had a little more background noise, but at least it was stable.
Up until now, the negatives of a film to be restored were digitized in 2K [in Europe]. CHILDREN OF PARADISE is the first to have benefited from digitization in 4K. How can the difference be measured?
LURIN ‘“ It can be seen in the resolution, because the image is better defined. In 2K, there are 2048 pixels per line; in 4K there are 4096. Before choosing 4K, Pathé undertook comparative tests with 2K, and the quality of the image on screen was clearly superior in 4K. Partly because of definition, but mostly in the fineness and tonality in contrast levels. Pathé’s decision to work with 4K is courageous and should be congratulated, because it means a heavier and more expensive job. Just to give you an idea, importing or exporting a 4K file that corresponds to a reel of film lasting 20 minutes takes the machine 32 hours of calculation!
Do you meet with the same problem for the sound?
ROUSSEAU ‘“ No, because digital sound reached its maturity during the 1990s. For this reason sound is easier to work with than images.
CHILDREN OF PARADISE consists of how many 35mm reels?
LURIN ‘“ Eleven reels, each 600 meters in length. It’s a very long film in two parts, each lasting about one and a half hours. Part one is a little longer, with a total of six reels.
When did you receive the first digitized reels?
LURIN ‘“ We received the first reel from Bologna at the end of the summer of 2010. But since the digitization had been rather complex ‘“ taking into account that each reel has to undergo a preparation process that consisted of mending damaged sprocket holes or splicing any tears ‘“ we only received the final files at the end of the winter. That enabled us to undertake a number of tests before starting out the real restoration work.
How did you go about it?
LURIN ‘“ As I told you, the problem with 4K is the size of the files. We therefore tried to divide the film into the parts most in need of restoration so as to lighten the weight. Nevertheless, the first stage consists of running each reel through a machine in semi-automatic mode. This first pass enables us to undertake what are known as the basic corrections. We get rid of the classic instability that can be found in a negative print. We correct any variations in luminosity, either because the film has aged, or because the lighting effects used at the time were not always quite stable. At this stage we also undertake a few tasks of pure restoration, but this is restricted to correcting simple faults like dust or small abrasions. Once this first pass has been done, we then run the damaged parts (tears, scratches, mold, even a customs’ stamp placed directly on the negative print in one case!) through other machines, each with its own operator. When the damage is complicated, an operator can spend hours, even days, of work on only 8 or 10 frames. So we separate the data, and this requires an enormous amount of follow-through. Not only must the images be moved from one machine to another, which requires hours of transfer, but we also need to know, at every instant, precisely where they are and at what stage of restoration. Finally all these frames must be reintegrated in order to reconstitute the reel, and we then screen it for verification purposes.
What was the duration of this restoration?
LURIN ‘“ A little over four months, from December to April. During the last two months, we were a team of some twenty people working on the project. It is a very big restoration job indeed. I leave it to you to calculate the weight of one reel: 45 Mb per frame, times 24 frames times 60 seconds, times 20 minutes’¦
ROUSSEAU ‘“ That’s where we can appreciate that sound is a lighter element to treat. I invested in one hard disc of 500Gb, it cost me 80 euros, and I worked on my own.
Does sound suffer the same type of deterioration as images?
ROUSSEAU ‘“ Yes, it’s the same thing. There are scratches, mold, etc. Optical sound is a photographic image, so it suffers in the same way as the image.
LURIN ‘“ Except for the fact that the sound is placed on the left margin of the film, and is slightly adjusted in relation to the frame. Indeed, when you watch a film being projected, you can see that the right hand side of the picture, which goes right to the edge of the film, is more damaged than the left side because the soundtrack is on the left side and hence takes the knocks.
ROUSSEAU ‘“ Image and sound suffer the same types of deterioration, but the way of approaching the problems is totally different. When there is a ‘small piece of damage’ in a frame, the same zone in the preceding frame is duplicated to replace it. Sound is continuous and needs to be treated differently.
What are the various stages in sound restoration?
ROUSSEAU ‘“ As with the images, we put the whole film through an automatic machine that we call a Cedar. There is a program to detect minor flaws in the sound. It takes them out and replaces them with what should be there. But the Cedar can’t be used for lengthy spots of deterioration. In the case of CHILDREN OF PARADISE, after the first stage, there remained on average two or three fixes per second, which had to be done by hand. That means we undertook micro-editing of very short lengths, because the ear cannot hear the difference between two sounds if they are separated by less than 15 milliseconds. In other words, everything that needs reconstruction in the sound must be done piece by piece, each piece lasting less than 15 milliseconds. To put it more simply, we could say that sound restoration consists of dividing big problems into a series of small problems’¦
At which moment are sound and image reunited in the course of the restoration?
ROUSSEAU ‘“At the end, as is always the case with cinema’¦
LURIN ‘“ ‘¦and it is obviously an essential stage. Things are not perceived in the same way when both images and sound are present at the same time. Flaws that are in the images can ‘disappear’ by magic, thanks to the voice of an actor that captures all the attention. Inversely, very mediocre sound can seem impeccable when the accompanying images are very strong. It is only at this stage that we can really judge the quality of the work that has been accomplished. That is why for the past two months we went every Thursday morning to the big screening theatre of the Gaumont Marignan cinema on the Champs-Elysées so as to see any eventual flaws under real conditions.
ROUSSEAU ‘“ One of the hard things in restoration is to maintain a spectator’s eye, a kind of innocence, and freshness.
Exactly how do you judge a restored film?
LURIN ‘“ With regard to the image, we try to get to a point where the viewer will not be disturbed by the remaining defects while remaining true to how the film looked on first release. To restore does not mean to modernize. At the level of texture, for example, we retained a certain grain, because that was how images looked at that time. Care must be taken not to misrepresent the film.
ROUSSEAU ‘“ In a way it’s like not rewriting history. We saw that the major problem with sound on CHILDREN OF PARADISE was background noise. We can reduce this sound grain and we did, but the question is to know just how far to go. Someone with no experience with old movies could say: ‘Ah, we can still hear the background noise.’ And he would be right. But even so, should we have gone further? I think not, because then we would have changed the inherent style of the film. When the sound grain is lowered beyond a certain level, the voices of the actors are also modified and become metallic. We would have attacked the actor’s way of playing the role. We would have lost subtlety and emotion. The film dates from 1945; it is what it is, the actors were allowed to breathe.
Which scenes presented you with the biggest problems?
LURIN ‘“ There were at least two. The first is at the beginning of reel 2 of the second part, when Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand) is waiting in the dressing room for Frédérick LemaÃ®tre (Pierre Brasseur). At this spot the original negative was very damaged, particularly because of mold. We therefore chose to use a nitrate ‘master positive’ which was in a better state. But after having restored the scene, which represented 2 or 3 minutes of film, we realized that it was not possible to make it match the rest of the reel. So we decided to go backwards, despite everything, and use the original negative. It was a huge task, but at least we found the same texture, grain and definition.
The other difficult scene is a shot of young Baptiste when he goes to see Garance (Arletty) in the theatre. It was full of vertical abrasions across the whole width of the image. In all his years of experience, the technician who restored this shot had never seen such damage. Here again it took days of work.
ROUSSEAU ‘“ On the sound level, the most delicate scene was undoubtedly that at the start of the film in which Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand) is in the shop of the writer. Not only was there an awful lot of background noise, but the original soundtrack was really not very good. It had directional microphones and actors who kept moving away from them. On top of that, there were mediocre loops added in the post synchronization process. In short, a very difficult passage indeed, which was as much the fault of the stock used as the original sound mix. So a lot of work had to be done to reduce these defects while at the same time not going too far.
Did the work of restoration follow the chronology of the film?
ROUSSEAU ‘“ Not really. Usually we isolate each type of problem and deal with them one after the other across the whole film.
LURIN ‘“ Defects are graded from 1 to 3. We start on the defects at level 3, the highest, and then gradually work down to level 1. And we stop when we decide that there are no more disturbances for the viewer who will watch the film in normal screening conditions.
Did you ever have to reconstitute entire images?
LURIN ‘“ Yes, that did happen. In some shots, images were missing from the original negative, probably because they were cut by mistake in the editing. In this case, these missing frames were recreated out of nothing. Sometimes only one or two frames were missing, sometimes five or six. And in some sections, it was really visible. But reconstituting frames is obviously complicated, because we are no longer talking about restoration, but recreation. It is very complex, closer to animation or special effects.
ROUSSEAU ‘“ As sound is continuous we don’t think in terms of frames. If a sound is missing, we generally manage to borrow an equivalent sound from somewhere else in the film. When it concerns background ambiance there is no problem. When it’s part of the music, we can also manage to find the same note somewhere else. On the other hand, when a word is missing from dialogue, there’s nothing we can do. It is possible to reconstruct a frame, but not an actor’s voice. If all that is missing is a syllable, we can manage to pick the sound up from a different shot. We did it once on this film. In one scene, Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand) said the word ‘quelque’ and the second syllable had been accidentally cut during the original sound mix. So I went to search for this missing ‘-que’ in order to stick it back on’¦
CHILDREN OF PARADISE is classic film elected a few years ago as being the greatest French film of all time. Were you aware of a special responsibility when it came to restoring such a masterpiece?
LURIN ‘“ Yes of course, but above all we started appreciating it more and more. Having to work on it over a number of months, almost frame by frame, one develops a sort of affectionate sentiment for the film. It seems like we know all its secrets. Now it’s as if it belongs to us too. I think that all the people who worked on this restoration will never forget the experience.
ROUSSEAU ‘“ I think that all films should be treated equally. If we start thinking about our responsibility we’ll become paralyzed. After all, people who make great films don’t know they will become great while they are shooting them. That can only be appreciated afterwards. You have to put yourself in that mindset. You just have to do the best possible job.
LURIN ‘“ It’s true that the work was not done any differently on this particular film. But having lived with it for over four months we obviously see it with a different eye.
What did you discover in the film that you had not noticed previously?
LURIN ‘“ Personally, I never tire of watching the pantomime scenes of Jean-Louis Barrault. And I love the dialogue too.
ROUSSEAU ‘“ It is exceptionally good. That is the strongest part of the film.
LURIN ‘“ Prévert gave it incredible resonance. Just one example: there is a scene in which Garance, played by Arletty, is arrested by a police sergeant. At the end of the scene he says to her: ‘You’re free.’ Like a shot she replies: ‘Fine, because I adore freedom.’ It was 1943, half of France was under German occupation, and she says that almost at the start of the film!
ROUSSEAU ‘“ And the sets are absolutely sublime. Knowing that they were created during the war, the Paris we see in the film is amazing.
LURIN ‘“ Visually the film is infinitely rich. The shots of the crowds on the Boulevard du Temple can be watched ten times, and each time you can discover new elements: ‘Oh, I hadn’t noticed those two dancers doing the French cancan before.’ It’s a film that fills both the eyes and the ears.
If you had to chose a single image or a single sound?
LURIN ‘“ Without thinking about it, I would choose Garance’s face in the second part of the film when she is at the theatre wearing a little veil, and she shines like a star. It’s the scene in which Frédérick LemaÃ®tre meets her again after a number of years.
ROUSSEAU ‘“ I like the film’s music very much, but as we are talking about this particular scene, I would choose the wonderful exchange of their meeting again. Him: ‘Garance, you haven’t changed.’ Her, in that inimitable voice: ‘More distinguished?’
Interview by Christophe D’Yvoire